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Movie Monday: The Viking (1928)

ruarigh:

I just came across this film today which led to this blog post about it. If you scroll down a bit, there is a link to the whole film on Youtube. I plan to watch it soon, but loved the tone of this post from Gonzo History and wanted to share it.

Originally posted on The Gonzo History Project:

the-viking-movie-poster-1928-1020198222

This week’s film is kind of an oddity. It’s silent — one of the last big silent films — but it’s in colour. In fact, just as it was one of the last big silent films, it was one of the first big colour films, widely considered at the time to be one of the best uses of the Technicolour process. As we’ll see, it looks pretty good!

Well, OK, maybe not good per se.

Anyway, it’s an adaptation of a 1902 novel, the which you can find on Gutenburg and which I have also put on my Kindle but not read yet. The novel is in turn sort of based on The Saga of Erik the Red and The Saga of the Greenlanders. Sort of.

Ready? Here we go.

Our story begins with a little casual … not racism as such, but a little reminder that 1928…

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Vikingdom : The Blood Eclipse

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Things I learnt about Vikings from watching this film:

  • Thor dyes his hair. Is he going grey under that terrible red hairdo? And what about those red contact lenses?
  • Thor takes fashion advice from Games Workshop Elves. Check that helmet out.
  • Vikings can climb cliffs like monkeys.
  • Vikings can leap over walls like giant, vicious, violent fleas.
  • Vikings used massed archery like a fifteenth-century English army.
  • Metal kite shields were in common usage during the eighth century.
  • Wrestling bears is a popular Viking hobby.

Things I was left wondering:

  • Why is Thor trying to free the giants?
  • Who am I kidding with all this historical pedantry?

This film uses the allure of the Viking to entice unwitting history buffs into watching it. Like Hammer of the Gods before it, it has nothing to do with real history and really belongs in the realm of fantasy. The Norsery is purely skin deep and provides little beyond some names and a plot. The film even lacks the momentum of Hammer of the Gods, so watching becomes tedious and the concentration wavers. I’m sure the answer to my question about freeing the giants was in there somewhere but I must have lost focus and missed that bit. I’m not sure I care enough about the film to watch it again to find out.

So, having let this post languish for ages, in a fit of mental sogginess I watched this film again today. I now understand. Thor wants to punish humanity for forsaking the old gods and wants to rule the earth. That makes sense then. What about the film though? Visually it felt like watching a computer game with grainy metallic colours throughout. The dialogue was quite wooden. There is lots of action and macho posturing. There’s lots of carnage in slow motion, if you like that sort of thing. You don’t have to think too hard about it all. In fact, I would recommend not thinking about it at all if you watch it. Just enjoy the ride and accept it for what it is: a cheaply made Viking movie with poor special effects. This is totally B-movie territory. It’s not quite in ‘so bad it’s good’ territory, but some might consider it so. Interestingly, I find myself slightly less negative about it now that I have watched it a second time. I wonder if that is because my expectations were suitably lowered.

Happy 200th Birthday, Norway.

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Today is the Norwegian Constitution Day (Nasjonaldagen or Grunnlovsdagen). It is a national holiday in Norway and is marked with parades, national dress wearing and flag waving. I remember it being particularly fun back in the eighties when I lived in Norway. Today’s 17th May celebration is the bicentenary of the signing of the constitution at Eidsvoll. This act marked the start of the route to independence for Norway. It had originally been a separate country and Viqueen has a virtual 17th May parade with the legendary founder of Norway on her blog. However, Norway and Sweden became part of Denmark with the Kalmar Union of 1397, which was a response to increasing commercial pressure from the south. Sweden gained its independence again in 1523, but Norway had to wait nearly another 400 years. Due to bad choices made by Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars, Norway joined a union with Sweden later in 1814 and it did not gain full independence until 1905, but 1814 marked the start of that road.

Gratulerer med dagen, Norge.

How the Viking got his horns

Roberta Frank has shown how the ‘traditional’ horned helmet came to be associated with the Vikings. Carl Doepler was the costume designer for Wagner’s first Bayreuth production of Ring des Nibelungen in 1876, and he created a simple horned helmet for the production. The fate of the horned helmet was sealed. Where previously it had been the preserve of the Ancient Briton or Gaul, now it was firmly associated with the Viking brand in the popular consciousness. Nowadays we know better. Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. Nevertheless, Vikings are still depicted as wearing horned helmets in many places, especially in advertising, as a quick trawl of Google for Viking-related business names shows. It is an immediately recognisable brand that can be used for a range of products to indicate various attributes of that product. I do struggle to understand the reasoning behind Viking Scaffolding, but Viking River Cruises and Viking Taxis do make some sense.

Archaeology does not support this horned image either. No Viking Age helmets have been found that feature horns. However, I have another theory that leads me to believe that Doepler may have had greater knowledge of Viking headgear than is generally credited. It occurred to me that Vikings fought a lot. Fighting is a thirsty business and requires a Viking to carry a lot of gear. He has axes, swords, spears, knives, shields and armour to carry with him when he goes to war, so a Viking must have had his hands full. We know that Vikings drank from horns, so it occurs to me that they must have taken those horns with them too. With all that war-gear to carry the Vikings had their hands full, but they were not stupid. Clearly they must have found a way to affix horns full of mead to their helmets, leaving their hands free for the important stuff like big axes and swords and spears. Presumably they would detach the horns, drink the ale or mead, and discard them before battle, which is why no helmets with horns have been found. And that is how the Vikings invented the beer hat.

Now all I need is a research grant to look for horn middens near Viking Age battlefields.

Reference:

Frank, R., “The Invention of the Viking Horned Helmet” (2000)

The Viking Experience by Marjolein Stern and Roderick Dale

The Viking Experience

The Viking Experience is a general history of the Vikings by Dr Marjolein Stern and yours truly, and I am excited that it is now available through Amazon. Far be it from me to praise this book overmuch but I am really quite pleased with how it turned out. It is in full colour with plenty of illustrations and comes in a slipcase with removable inserts illustrating important documents of the time. Rather than blather on about it, I shall let the publisher’s blurb speak for me:

‘From the remote and unforgiving landscape of northern Europe, the Vikings voyaged to far-flung areas of the world with extraordinary consequences. The Viking Experience examines the origins, explorations and settlements of these seafaring people, exploring their impact on the world as colonizers, craftsmen, traders and state-makers. This highly illustrated book provides a revealing portrait of the Vikings’ incredible legacy with a collection of facsimiles and translations of rare documents, including:

  • Drawings and photographs from archaeological dig sites
  • An extract from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, describing a Viking raid on Lindisfarne
  • The Skálholt map that marks Norse discoveries in the western Atlantic
  • A page from the Stockholm Codex Aureus, an illuminated manuscript that was looted by the Vikings
  • The Vinland map showing Norse exploration of America as an example of recreated Viking history’

Hammer of the Gods – Some Thoughts

Hammer of the Gods

Hammer of the Gods

dir. by Farren Blackburn (Vertigo Films, 2013)

The plot

Steinar must travel to find the macguffin (his brother) and return to his dying father with it. In doing so he loses his humanity and becomes a hardened warrior fit to be king.

See the trailer here.

The film

The film opens with a shot of a young boy on a beach. He sees a Viking ship sailing out of the fog, its sail billowing and its oars out. I did not count them, but it looked like about ten or fifteen oars on each side, so a minimum crew of twenty. This being the case, why did only six warriors emerge onto the cliff top to fight the Saxon levies? For that matter, why was the ship obviously under full sail when the oars were being used too? These things jarred at the start, and this sense of wrongness continued when the fight began and I noticed that none of the warriors had a shield and that several of the weapons were blatantly anachronistic. The lack of shields is an issue all the way through the film until the very last scene. Other issues included the ‘Saxons’ dressed like ninjas with skull face masks and the blue-painted cave people at the end. Then there was the ignorance of what a runestone was; Steinar had to ask what it was. Finally, there are few female characters in the film and almost all are completely incidental to the plot. Although advertised as a Viking film set in 870-71, this film quite clearly was not that. In reality it is a fantasy quest film and the setting need not have been England in the ninth century, because the events were quite generic with nothing that made it specifically Viking in nature.

Having got the complaints out of the way, I can address the rest of the film. The plot is minimal, as described above. After the initial direction of the action towards finding the macguffin, things just seemed to roll from one fight to the next with little explanation of who or why things were happening. It reminded me of a highly structured D&D adventure where all travelling is specifically to get the characters to the next plot device / encounter with the baddies. As the film progressed, the pace picked up until the ending, which was reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. Elliot Cowan as Hakan the Ferocious even seemed to be trying to get the look and feel of Brando as Colonel Kurtz. It had a certain inevitability about it from start to finish. At no point did I wonder if Steinar would die or fail in his quest. There was no real tension or even concern for the characters. Instead the momentum of the film kept me watching, helped by the stunning Welsh scenery amid which it was filmed, and the quality of the cinematography which was pretty good. The casting was also reasonably good, with the main characters giving decent performances. One point that tickled me was the use of a smattering of Old English dialogue. That was definitely a plus point.

Overall this film was not a total waste of time. Don’t expect a historically accurate epic, high art or even great cinema, because this film lies firmly in B-movie territory, but, if heroic gore-laden action adventure is your thing and you can accept the thin plot then you may enjoy it.

Ragnarok: A new beginning

Out of the leaves of Yggdrasill this blog emerges reborn after the turmoil of last weekend’s fight between the gods and the giants. Well, assuming that anything in Old Norse writings actually stated that Ragnarok would take place on 22nd February 2014 that is. A Clerk of Oxford writes enough on the topic that I do not need to. Judith Jesch’s blog post about the meaning of Ragnarok is worth reading too. Much better than the Jorvik Viking Centre’s publicity stunt.

So, apart from referencing other people’s posts what’s the point of this post? It is a statement of intent for the future. It’s been a pretty rough few years for a variety of reasons that I shall not go into, but life seems to be taking a more positive turn and with it I feel that this blog needs a new beginning too. Last week I finally submitted my thesis, so now I await my viva and whatever may follow. I also had The Story of the Vikings published which was co-authored with my good friend Marjolein Stern. This edition has been specially produced for The Works. The proper edition is titled The Viking Experience and is due to be published in March. It came as quite a surprise to have a friend tell me that the book was already in The Works, when I thought I would have to wait a month still to see it. As part of last week’s new beginning, I also filmed a slot for a forthcoming documentary series called Ancient Black Ops. The series will look at elite warriors of the past, and I was called in for the programme on berserkir. Exciting stuff.

I now plan to devote myself to posting at least once a month on this blog. I have a lot of material I can and wish to cover and it only needs me to make time for it, so watch this space and I shall try not to leave you hanging.

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